Vanilla & Cinnamon Milk Tart

When it comes to anything involved with pastry my anxiousness begins to slowly creep up. I am fairly competent at pasta dough – but pastry dough is another story! That said, I am getting better and learning more each time I set out for another baking adventure in the Salt & Starch kitchen.

benjamin resini

Recently I was thumbing thru one of my cookbooks I had admittedly neglected for some time – The Jamie Oliver Comfort Food cookbook. As I flipped thru the pages I really began to fall in love with this book and remembered why I bought it in the first place. The recipes along with the food photography are incredible. I found myself stuck on the Milk Tart recipe as it caught my attention last Sunday. I began to read up on it to see if I could give it a go.

From my research online I found that Milktart or “Melktert” is traditionally a South African pastry that is delicate, sweet and creamy.  I was really intrigued and read a number of different recipes online along with the Jamie Oliver recipe from the book. I decided I would give it a try, putting my little personal touches on it as I do with everything I cook (or bake in this instance). In general I followed the Jamie Oliver recipe which was quite simple but I’ve included notes along the way which were not in the cookbook that I found helpful.

Here’s what you will need:

Pastry:

  • 1 2/3 Cups all-purpose flour, extra for dusting
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup of 2% milk

Filling:

  • 2 1/2 cups 2% milk
  • 1 Vanilla Bean
  • 1/2 cup of unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup superfine sugar (see my notes)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

 

Making pastry dough is fairly straightforward, although I find it difficult at times given the little kneading necessary. I always catch myself kneading it too much.

Pastry Dough:

Start off with running your flour and confectioners sugar thru a sieve into a large metal bowl. Cut your butter into small cubes and then combine your mixture together gently. Add your egg and a pinch of high quality sea salt. (I use Maldon).  Mix for another 30 seconds and then add in your milk slowly. Continue mixing together until you have what looks like a very flaky or ‘scruffy’ ball – as indicated in the Jamie Oliver cookbook.  Again, this is where I struggle because I want that dough to look shiny and golden like pasta dough! Remind yourself it is pastry dough and not pasta dough! Set aside in the fridge for 30 minutes.

The next part is where I screwed up originally when making this pastry. While my pastry dough was cooling in the fridge I began making the filling. Big mistake! Allow some patience (something I typically do not have much of) with this recipe and let your pastry dough to fully cool in the fridge before you do anything else. This is a recipe you can’t skip ahead on and get away with.

Ok, so now it’s been 30 minutes and you’re chomping at the bit to get this thing moving! Take out a 9 or 10 inch tart pan and spray some PAM into it, making sure the sides are coated well. You can use other oils here as well but the baking PAM spray I have found works well. Remove your pastry dough from the fridge and begin rolling it out to roughly 1/4″ thickness. Remember, this isn’t pasta dough so your dough is going to be flaky and crumbly & possibly sticky.  Continue to put your rolling pin skills to the test until you have a nice even section of dough rolled out – large enough to cover your tart pan. It’s ok to sprinkle all-purpose flour on your surface and dough throughout this process – as your dough is probably a bit sticky. Use the flour to tighten it up if needed.

Roll or place your rolled out pastry dough over top of your tart pan, being sure to push in nicely along all the edges inside. Cut the excess dough around the edge of the tart pan. Take a fork and punch holes through the base of the dough. (A tiny detail I forgot to do my first time making this dish! Poking holes in the bottom will help the dough to cook evenly, prevent it from sticking to the bottom, and will also help the baking process of the filling.) Pop the tart pan into your freezer for 20 minutes to firm up.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Remove your tart pan from the freezer and place a sheet of tin foil over top of your tart pan pastry, being sure to push into all the corners gently. Take some rice or baking beans and fill up the tart pan, again putting enough into the pan to get into all the nooks and crannies. I should mention this process confused the hell of me when I read it in the cookbook. The purpose of this process is to cook the pastry dough somewhat before adding the forthcoming filling. This will allow the dough to ultimately be fully cooked. If you do not do this step your dough will not cook fully in the oven the first go around, leaving you with a doughy mess.

Take your tart pan (now filled with rice or baking beans on top of a tin foil sheet) and bake for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes remove from your oven and dispose of the rice or beans and tin foil. Place back into the oven for another 10 – 15 minutes uncovered.

While your pastry is in the oven for the 2nd time, you can begin working on your filling. Pour your milk into a sauce pan and place on the stove over low heat. Cut your vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds, adding to the milk on the stove. Throw in the bean stalks as well. (You will remove them later). Allow to simmer for roughly 15 minutes.

In a separate bowl beat your eggs, cornstarch, all-purpose flour & superfine sugar.

Note: Superfine Sugar is NOT confectioners sugar. I have found that superfine sugar can be somewhat difficult to find at a local grocery store. If you cannot find superfine sugar you can easily pop it into a food processor and blend on high for roughly 30 seconds or until the sugar is visibly powdery and much more fine. Your food processor blades will not like this but it’s a work around if you don’t have access to store bought superfine sugar.

Remove your milk & vanilla from the stove which should now be nicely simmering. Remove the vanilla stalks from the sauce pan. Add in your butter, mixing continuously until fully melted. The recipe in the cookbook called for 1 ‘pat’ of butter – which was again confusing to me. What the hell is a ‘pat’ of butter. The term is subjective from what I found. I used 1/2 cup of unsalted butter cut into small cubes which worked nicely. Most recipes would probably say that is too much but it worked for me.

Next gradually stir in your flour/egg/cornstarch mixture into the milk, stirring continuously until fully incorporated. At this juncture I added my own little personal touch to the recipe and put in a dash of vanilla powder. Vanilla powder can be difficult to get but probably can be acquired at any good spice store or farmer’s market.

Place your sauce pan back on stove over med-low heat. Here is another point where your patience will pay off dividends. Continue to stir until your mixture becomes thick. This usually takes 10-15 minutes. Your mixture will get thick and become a pudding like consistency.  Once at this point, remove from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes – or until it is not steaming hot anymore.

Carefully pour your filling into your pastry tart pan, being sure not to overfill the filling above the rim of your tart pan. Sprinkle some ground cinnamon on top and bake for another 20-30 minutes.

*The Jamie Oliver recipe added some glazed caramel to this dish. I gave it a try and after a disastrous first attempt which included ruining the first tart and nearly burning my thumb off from the glaze – I managed to get it right.  If you would like to add a little caramel glaze to this tart it is actually fairly easy – but the timing is the important part.

For the optional caramel glaze:

Allow your tart to fully bake before preparing the glaze. Your tart should be cooling comfortably on the kitchen counter before you start your glaze.

Take 1 cup of regular sugar and a splash of water and put into a small sauce pan over med heat. Stir regularly until your sugar begins to thicken both in consistency and color. Continue to stir until you have a beautiful golden brown color of caramel and the thickness is still workable. Once the consistency is thick but still ‘pour-able’, remove from the stove and carefully pour over top of your now finished tart.

Note: This is where I burned my finger horribly the first time I did this. The glaze might not look hot but it is like lava! – trust me! Be careful during this step!

Allow your tart to fully cool – for a few hours before even thinking about removing it from the tart pan or serving. The best course of action I have found here is to let it cool on the counter for a few hours and then stick it in the fridge overnight. The subtle flavors of the creamy filling will come thru better the next day after it’s been cooling for a while. You’ll be left with a delicate, creamy and impressive pastry dish which you can add creme fraiche too, decorate with fresh blueberries or simply with the caramel glaze.

 

Fish Sauce Spare Ribs

This is a go-to dish for me. I absolutely love Fish Sauce Spare Ribs. I’ll make a wild guess and say you might have never tried fish sauce spare ribs? Am I right? If so, read on!

Put down the BBQ sauce and give this incredibly easy recipe a try for a super flavorful take on spare ribs you won’t forget.

*Some of the recipes I share on Salt & Starch outline exact measurements for cooking certain things. I share what works for me and what doesnt. For this entry I am mostly leaving it up to you to figure out. There are many variations I have found when preparing this dish so what better way to figure out what works for you! When I first cooked FSSR’s I used the now defunct Lucky Peach 101 Easy Asian Recipe cookbook.

After a few attempts I of course changed up the recipe slightly to suit what I felt made a better result. But that’s the beauty of cooking – experimentation with flavors, spices, amounts, and preparation until you get it just right for your tastebuds. So that said, below is a general outline of what you need. Feel free to add, take away and tweak the recipe to make it yours.

*Note: If you are not familiar with Fish Sauce I suggest you read this quick little article first.

It’s packs a sweet, powerful and funky flavor to dishes and it can easily be overused on your first few attempts cooking with it – I mention that based on experience!

So, my general rule of thumb with Fish Sauce is ‘less is more’. The powerful flavors of the sauce will still come thru in the dish you prepare and as mentioned above – you can always tweak your amounts to your flavor profiles as you get accustomed to using Fish Sauce as a main ingredient.

General Ingredients suggested:

  • 2 Racks of Spare Ribs (St.Louis cut if possible)
  • 3/4 Cup of Fish Sauce (Found at most Asian supermarkets)
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • Lime Juice
  • Fresh Ginger, minced
  • Kosher Salt

How To:

Mix together in a large bowl 1/4 cup of your fish sauce and 1/4 cup of sugar. Rub each rack of ribs liberally with the mixture. Arrange each rack separately on its own baking sheet, wrapping each rack in foil – crimping the foil at the top.

Now the recipe I followed originally indicated to bake at 350 Degrees until tender but not falling apart, around 90 minutes. For my kitchen and stove I found this to be too long and the ribs were falling apart by then. I cook mine for roughly 70 minutes at 350 degrees, checking them every so often to make sure they are not overcooking.

Remove from the oven and let the ribs rest in their foil pouches for at least 20 minutes.

While your ribs are cooling, finish preparing the remaining ingredients using the general outline below:

Combine the remaining sugar, water and salt into a sauce pan over medium heat.  Add some of the lime juice and stir. I like to add just a little bit extra lime juice because I like the ‘tartiness’ it brings forth in the mix. Continue stirring for roughly 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add your ginger. Gently swirl the pan to incorporate the ginger. (You can also add garlic as an extra kick as well)

Add a bit more lime juice and another 1/2 cup of the fish sauce. Lucky Peach’s recipe calls for adding sambal at this stage if you are so inclined to. Add a dash of pepper and allow to bubble over low heat, stirring gently to incorporate.  You are making a ‘Fish Sauce Caramel’.

Repackage your rack of ribs into new foil wraps, arranging them meat side up on the baking sheet. Take a brush and liberally brush some of the fish sauce onto the ribs. Roast for 5-10 minutes, remove and baste with more of your sauce. Continue this process until you have exhausted all your sauce giving your ribs a shiny glaze with a nice char.

Let cool for 15 minutes, cut into slices and enjoy!

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Continue reading “Fish Sauce Spare Ribs”

How to make Challah Bread

I am no baker, that’s for sure. However, I have made my fair share of bread in the past and I continue to bake bread occasionally all while trying to understand the magical chemistry that occurs between yeast, water, flour, etc.

Challah bread is a beautiful way to start making bread, and it’s fun to make! It’s rich texture along with a very slight hint of sweetness can be noticed when trying it for the first time. It’s recipe is straightforward and the end result is almost always impressive to look at. I particularly like making challah bread on occasion because I can never seem to get it just right. My braids always open up on top but the end result still looks fantastic and most importantly the taste is great.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Ingredients: 1 loaf
  • 1 cup water – best if lukewarm or room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons of dry yeast – you can use active dry but I tend to use the instant yeast
  • 4 to 4 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons of salt (regular salt, not sea salt)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1-2 large egg yolks separated – (Save the egg white in a small bowl, set to the side)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil such as Canola oil – (Do not use olive oil here!)

How to:

The first step you need to do is to dissolve your yeast. Place your yeast in a small bowl with the water, adding a little pinch of sugar. Mix well until all is incorporated. At this point you want to let your bowl stand for 5-10 minutes. The yeast should be doing its magic and you should see a cloudy or frothy layer form across the top of the water. If you do not see this your yeast has most likely expired and you will need to start over.

Mix your dry ingredients: Place your 4 cups of flour, your sugar and salt into your stand mixer bowl. Make a well in the middle of your flour and add the oil, eggs and egg yolk. Pour the yeast mixture into the mix and stir together with a wooden spoon until you get a messy dough.

*You can add sprinkles of dry flour as you go – that will help with the wetness of the mix and will assist in it all coming together. (Don’t go overboard however with adding more dry flour at this step – use it sparingly to assist with the dough coming together).

With a stand mixer, fix the dough hook and knead the dough on low speed for roughly 6-8 minutes.  If you do not have a stand mixer you can knead by hand for 10 minutes.  If the dough feels sticky or wet you can sprinkle dry flour into the mix as you continue to knead. The goal is to get a silky smooth texture that easily forms a ball.

Once the dough is kneaded and form nicely, place the ball of dough into an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for roughly 1-2 hours. The dough needs to double in size – use this visual measure of the indication it is risen enough.

Divide the dough into 3 equal parts. Stretch each part to roughly 14-16 inches in length creating ‘ropes’. Many times while doing this you will notice the ropes tend to shrink up. If this happens let them rest for 5 minutes or so giving the gluten more time to relax.

For a 3-stranded challah you want to gather the ropes at the top, pinching together. Braid the 3 ropes together (as if braiding hair) making sure your braid is relatively tight.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place your braided challah on top and sprinkle with a little dry flour. Place a kitchen towel over top and let rest for roughly 1 hour in a warm and dry place.

While your braided challah is still resting (roughly 20 minutes before you put it in the oven), add a little water to your egg whites that you set aside from earlier. Whisk the mixture gently. Brush and coat the challah bread with the egg wash making sure you get into all the crevices and especially on top.

Pre-Heat your oven to 350 F.

Bake for roughly 30-35 minutes, checking every so often to ensure the top is evenly being baked.  The challah should be browned thoroughly on top.

Let the Challah cool on a baking rack until just warm.  Serve & enjoy!

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*You can add caraway seeds to the top before baking to add a little spicier flavor if desired.

 

 

 

 

Verdure Gratinate

Baked vegetables with bread crumbs is one of the easiest side dishes you can prepare. I love this dish because it sets up perfectly for new cooks. It allows for a newbie in the kitchen to practice their knife skills and prepare an incredibly easy and flavorful dish almost every time within minutes.

The other beautiful aspect of this dish is you can use virtually any vegetables you like. You’re not bound by only a few certain vegetables. So, that said – pick your favorites and get started! I’ll show you how …

Common veggies I like to use:

  • Eggplant
  • Peppers (Green, Red & Yellow)
  • Zuchinni
  • Onions
  • Tomato
  • Fresh herbs of your choice. Parsley, Oregano & Marjoram work wonderfully.
  • Salt & Pepper (Try to use high quality salt, not iodized store bought salt. Good salt such as Maldon Sea Salt or other sea salts make a huge difference in cooking. Freshly ground black pepper should also be a staple in your kitchen)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil. (Don’t skimp on quality here either. Get the good stuff)
  • Bread Crumbs – roughly about 1-1/2 cups

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How to:

Take your fresh herbs and put your knife skills to the test, getting them fully chopped finely.  Once you have a lovely mix of herbs (finely chopped) add them to your bread crumbs in a large mixing bowl – stirring well to make sure the herbs are fully incorporated with the the bread crumbs.

Cut your veggies roughly 1/4″ in thickness, or a bit thinner depending on your preference. This is another good exercise for your knife skills because you will have a few different vegetables to cut. Make your cuts even focusing on even lengths for all your veggies. This will make your dish look even better when its plated. (see photos)

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Place your cut vegetables on a baking sheet that has been drizzled with a little EVOO, spreading them out evenly. Don’t overcrowd them on the baking sheet. Sprinkle your breadcrumb mix on top of the veggies but don’t go crazy here putting more than is needed. This is a common mistake, one I committed the first time I made this side dish. If you put too many bread crumbs on top you’ll be left with burnt vegetables and a mushy breadcrumb pile on top. Less is more in this situation.

Drizzle some EVOO over top of the vegetables to finish.  Bake for roughly 45 minutes at 375 F until breadcrumbs are browned on top.

Sprinkle a little high quality sea salt on top and serve!

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